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Youth group advocating for better mental health support

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express

A local youth group advocating for better mental health services is recommending cross-partisan support from political leaders.

Future Majority, an organization which aims to amplify the voices of young Canadians so every candidate, politician and party is an advocate for youth priorities, says there has always been a lack of mental health support, and that the pandemic has only exacerbated the issue.

Future Majority volunteer Angelique Dack says now, more than ever, Canadians, particularly young Canadians, are experiencing increased mental health challenges and are looking for support. She says mental health has been a struggle for her this past year as well.

“With what has been going on the last year and being exhausted from school, I’ve never felt so anxious about my future before,” she says.

However, Dack says she knows she’s not alone as she says the crisis has touched the lives of her friends, family and colleagues as well.

“I’m so pleased to see Oshawa representatives showing leadership on this important issue,” she adds, noting she has a lot of love for the city and wants to see it thrive.

“That means amplifying the voices of the youth and advocating for social justice,” she continues. “I think there is power with the people and that we as young people have a lot of power. It’s time to get these important conversations started.”

Dack says the group is thrilled to be able to highlight the cross-partisan support for mental health care.

She says local candidates from all four major parties have said with one voice that accessibility to mental health care is a priority.

“They may differ about things in many different ways, but coming together today is the spirit of tackling an issue that impacts our loved ones, our neighbours, and our community of Oshawa,” she says.

Future Majority members from across the country have been hearing from political leaders on their commitment to improving access to mental health care for all Canadians.

The organization says it “speaks volumes” that in a time of political polarization, politicians from across the spectrum are in agreement about prioritizing action to tackle the mental health crisis, and the cross-partisan agreement is a step in the right direction.

“We, the undersigned, agree that improving access to mental health care is essential for combating the mental health crisis in Canada,” reads the letter, noting while the parties may disagree about the best path forward to address this pressing problem, they all agree mental health is a priority.

“In the short term, we need to invest in mental health supports,” the letter continues. In the long-term, the letter states the systemic reasons for negative mental health outcomes needs to be addressed and make its solutions accessible to those in need.

“In this moment of political polarization, we need to put aside political differences and recognize our common humanity by locking arms in the common cause for improving access to mental health care for all Canadians,”

The letter was signed by Oshawa MP Colin Carrie, member of the Conservative party; Shailene Panylo, member of the NDP; and Green Party member Virginia Ervin.

Local youth from Future Majority met with some of the local politicians in a recent Zoom meeting to hear why mental health is important to them.

In attendance were Panylo and Liberal candidate Afroza Hossain. Unable to attend, Oshawa MP Colin Carrie submitted a statement and Green Party candidate Virginia Ervin expressed her support.

Panylo, a long-time resident of Oshawa and having grown up in the community, says there is an immense need for mental health and addiction support for those who are unhoused, as well as youth.

She says she puts herself in that youth category.

“I felt it growing up here, what shifting changing dynamics we have seen over the last 10, 15 years within Oshawa, and how, as our opportunities grow, so do our needs,” she says, noting she has been vocal for a long time about her own mental health struggles and battles growing up in Oshawa.

Panylo says Oshawa wasn’t as diverse a place as it is recognized today and the implications that has on those moving to or growing up in the area.

“I feel very strongly that words without action just ring hollow,” she says. “We as a community, and as a country that brags about our universal health care, have really done ourselves a disservice taking so long to include mental health care.”

Panylo says the pandemic has further shown that the gaps that already existed need to be filled now more than ever, and that a national strategy is needed that ensures mental health care is universal, accessible, and available to everyone, regardless of where they come from.

“I’m proud to see young folks working so hard to push forward and advocate for these issues,” she adds.

Afroza Hossain, Oshawa candidate for the Liberal party, says she shares the passion of Future Majority, noting that mental health for everyone has been a challenge during the pandemic.

“We entered into a territory that none of us knew how to deal with it, and yet we were helping each other trying to listen to each other and see what we can do for our friends, neighbours, and families,” she says, noting things have come a long way since 2020.

She notes the federal government announced a $240 million funding investment to develop, expand, and launch virtual care and mental health tools and support for Canadians.

Through Wellness Together Canada, an online portal, Canadians can access free resources, tools, and professional support services to help with wellness and resilience, as well as mental health and substance use.

“I’m proud that our government has stepped up for all of us,” she says.

Carrie provided a statement, which Dack read aloud during the meeting.

“Improving access to mental health care is essential for all Canadians now more than ever, and especially for our youth,” it reads.

Carrie says since COVID-19 has begun, those seeking help are younger than ever – as young as 15.

“Almost all are struggling with mental health issues,” he says, noting a recent death from the Refuge Youth Outreach Centre, bringing the total deaths since last fall to five.

Carrie also wrote of his own daughter, Grace, who, like too many young women, has seen the prolonged COVID shutdown play havoc on her mental and physical health, jeopardizing her education and healthy future.

“While I’m very thankful to Oshawa’s organizations, working every day to help these young people, they can’t do it alone,” Carrie’s statement continues, noting access to mental health must be a priority.

“Let’s set aside political politics and division and recognizing our common humanity, stand together and improve access to mental health for all Canadians.”

Future Majority member Meshall says they are grateful for the coalition partners who have also jumped on the campaign to help raise the issues of mental health affordability in Canada.

Mary Krohnert, founder and executive director of the LivingRoom Community Art Studio, says having universal mental health care is essential, especially as an art studio.

“Working in the studio with people of all ages and abilities, we’ve recognized over time that mental health support is so important because without it, people lose the capacity to envision, to engage, and to transform not only their creative impulses, but their own beings themselves to create or recreate themselves as individuals,” she says. “Without that capacity, those people shatter.”

She says the longer the pieces are left unattended, the more difficult it is to draw them back together again, adding barriers need to be reduced as much as possible so that people can make the meaning of their experiences in a way that is healthy and be able to move forward.

“If things emerge and are left unattended, we see those issues travel up into the adults as well,” she adds. “That child, that youth with those struggles is still there and still hurting and still in need and it becomes more complicated to cope, more complicated to move forward, more complicated to access and trust the services that are already in place.”

Dack says she is thrilled to be able to highlight the cross-partisan support for accessible mental health care in the local community.

“Young people deeply care about this issue, and we know that our team here at Future Majority will continue to organize and advocate for the mental health crisis and resolving it.”

 

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